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Competitours Race Day 5 - Paris "We won!" (with Video)

As part of our Gadling on the Road series, Kent Wien and his wife Linda are participating as Team Gadling in the first run of Competitours, an Amazing Race like competition taking place in three different countries in Europe. Race along as Kent documents their progress.

All eleven teams gathered at the train station in Brussels for our journey to our next destination, which had just been revealed before dinner. Sure enough, we were going to Paris.

I made it to Paris a few times last year but I didn't feel like Linda and I had any advantage over any of the other teams, since the challenges were rather varied. And I was more interested in the challenges that I wasn't familiar with, avoiding the Pont Neuf and Catacombs challenges in favor of the more out of the way tasks.

We poured over the 6 pages of options for Paris and the surrounding area. We knew we'd have to come up with either two 30-point and one 15-point challenge or better yet, a 60-point plus one 15-point challenge to reach our maximum limit of 75 points for the day.

The 60-point challenge was risky. A day trip to the Loire Valley to tour the Chateau de Chambord, a castle that seems to have been the model for Walt Disney when he wrote Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty.



To put all of our effort into that one challenge and then have one or two other teams do the same thing with perhaps a more clever or interesting video would mean we'd only come away with 20 points. But I would never get the chance to travel this far out of the city on a Paris layover.

"Let's do it!" I said to Linda.

"And then we could come back and visit Jim Morrison's grave to sing a tribute song or we could do one of these other 15 pointers. We could finish with a 75-point day!" I said, greedily.



"Don't get cocky. This could easily backfire." She said.


She was right. Any time we thought we might be leading in the race, we'd find out about another team that had really poured it on and done better. We couldn't get our hopes up. And you couldn't underestimate the father and son team of David and Alex.

"Since we have to shoot for 75 points per day, you know it's going to be tight at the end with this few points up for grabs." I reasoned.

So we had a plan. And it wasn't even that difficult, really. A leisurely hour and 40 minute train ride down to the town of Blois, followed by some bus connections to the Chateau. We could even get lunch before heading back to Paris that night for a quick 15 point grab.

Half of the teams were staying at Gare du Nord and the other half at a Best Western in the Gare de l'Est. Despite their names, these two train stations couldn't be closer together. So we exited the North station and proceeded to walk to the East station with five or so other teams. Nearly everyone had been to Paris in this group, and we were seasoned enough travelers (especially by this point in the race) that we should be able to find the hotel.

Well, as "seasoned" travelers, we failed miserably. We all wandered around for ten minutes before finally discovering the East station. But that's when the real quest began. Where was the Best Western? We roamed in and around the front and sides of the train station, but we just couldn't find the hotel that was supposed to be located inside.

Finally, we saw a sign. We walked passed the blue and yellow Best Western sign and inside the station. Still no hotel. Finally, we went back outside and discovered a small door that led us to an elevator and the lobby. It's a good thing this wasn't a challenge.

The hotel had WiFi that was free for Boingo unlimited subscribers, which many of us were. So Linda and I did a bit more research before heading to bed. We had the next day fairly well planned out.

I woke up early, at 7:00 and took a shower. At 7:30 I told Linda that it was 8 and she needed to get ready. A small white lie, but we needed to get to the station by 9 a.m. to catch one of the few trains to Blois. She crawled out of bed with a tad more enthusiasm than before and mumbled that she really did, in fact, want to win.

We'd both been pressing for the finish line by this point. The upcoming free-day in Paris on Saturday was a huge draw for us–not to see the amazing sights that Paris has to offer, but just to be able to sleep in and recover. To have the day free meant we could sleep in a park, lounge in a creperie or simply read a book in bed.

We felt like we earned that day of rest. At the same time we were rather pleased that we made it this far and had done and seen so much. We'd met some amazing people along the way who couldn't have been friendlier and I like to think we all helped make the future Competitours trips even better based on our feedback.

Linda and I caught the train to Blois, and we managed to have just enough time to pick up a hot tea and some food. Linda was pleased.

The train tickets to Blois ran €96 (about $125), a cost that we had to pick up. Competitours pays for all the airfare, hotel and the daily train travel, but transportation relating to the challenges was the responsibility of the teams.

It was a fair deal. We hadn't been spending very much on meals or tours during this vacation anyway. So the extra cost to get out of the city seemed worth it to me.

When we arrived in Blois, we called the TLC bus line to inquire on the frequency of their service to the Chateau. They had another bus going in an hour and 45 minutes. This would really eat into our visit at the castle, and the return bus left too late for us to catch our scheduled train back to the city.

I immediately sent Steve a text message.

"Need permission to take a taxi to the Chateau de Chambord." I said.

Taxis were strictly forbidden when we were playing the game from Monday to Wednesday since every minute counted. But he challenges now had no time limit, and the pace was much more leisurely under the new rules, so I figured a waiver could be had.

"OK." Steve responded.

It was a good thing, because we were already on our way to the castle.

I debated if I wanted to bring along my Canon digital SLR for this trip. At 3 pounds, it was a bit of a hassle to carry, along with the laptop, everywhere we went.

But as we approached Chambord, I realized I made the right choice. This was a photographer's paradise. The bright, cloudless sky contrasted against the white walls of the castle. I had to remind myself not to forget to pull out the tiny flip video camera every now and then between still shots to capture something for the challenge.



The task called for us to come up with an alternate use for the castle, something moderately funny and clever. We figured we'd be inspired with an idea once we got inside, but we were too busy checking out the rooms, staircase and view to think of something right away.



We decided to forgo the humor and for once be serious for the video. Chateau de Chambord has been well preserved and it serves as a monument to the true luxury and decadence of the period.



This castle was actually a hunting retreat built by 25-year old King Francois I to impress a girl (isn't that ALWAYS the case?).

In fact, he never saw it fully completed, and only spent a total of seven weeks there.

It went on to see very infrequent use, with the next owner, the Count de Chambord only spending 3 days there out of the 60 years he owned the place.

With 440 rooms and 365 fireplaces, we couldn't help but to be impressed. But to actually live there would have amounted to a prison sentence for most people. It was cold and drafty, and about as enticing to live in as an aircraft hangar.



Okay, that might be a bad example, since I'd actually do quite well living in an aircraft hangar-depending on how it was 'furnished.'



We took video of the view from the walkways out to the gardens and did our best to describe on video the unique staircase that allowed for one person to go up, and another to go down without passing each other. 'Cause you certainly don't want to bump into another guest in this place if you're goal is complete seclusion.



After 2 1/2 hours roaming the halls with very little in the way of crowds, we called for a taxi and made our way back to the city of Blois.

In the cab I took a look on my iPhone to see if the results from the Monday to Wednesday competition had been released. The cab driver nearly drove off the road when I shouted out "We won!"

Linda couldn't believe it. What had happened to David and Alex? They were now listed in third place, with Mike and George in second.

I avoided the temptation to twitter our results, and sent a text message to Steve for clarification. If we did win, I wanted to be sure before getting too excited.

"Steve. A small question. Did we just win this thing from M-W? Signed team 5." I tapped.

"Apparemmtly" he replied.

Hmm. Not exactly the solid confirmation I had hoped for, but Apparemmtly isn't too far from absolutely, or undoubtedly or plainly or clearly. Right?

I had to share it with someone. So I sent Grant at Gadilng a text.

Linda was thrilled the effort paid off. She hadn't been sure our videos were resonating with the judges or if we were following the rules closely enough. Without day by day feedback in the form of points, we couldn't be sure if we were doing things right.

In the other Competitours events later this summer, points will be tallied much more quickly now that uploading will be handled by a chaperone each night.

Linda even wondered if we should skip the 15 point challenge that night.

"If we win the grand prize, isn't it a little unfair to go after the second part of the competition?" She wondered.

I was still far too competitive, and used the excuse that the point totals could somehow change and we could find ourselves in second or third place for the Monday to Wednesday competition.

"Yeah, I suppose." She said.

Of course, I knew we had won.

Grant suggested we call his sister, Chi (rhymes with she) to help us out with the last challenge. She lives near Paris and just happened to be in town after work that day.

I had met Chi the year before, and I knew Linda would really like her. So we arranged to meet up at the Best Western. Amazingly she found the hotel without any problem.

We chose the task we were sure most of the other teams wouldn't have picked. "West Africa without the jetlag" fit the ticket.

We needed to find a local from La Goutte d'Or area of Paris that comes from Togo, Congo, Cote d'Ivoire, Senegal and Guinea-Bissau. We needed to film them talking about their local traditional clothing and how it differs from country to country.

This task was nearly impossible. In fact, if any team managed to complete it, I'd say let 'em win the whole game. I had to stretch my high school/college French to new levels to explain as tactfully as possible that we were in a contest and that we needed to film someone from each of these countries.

One person showed me how to say "what's in it for me" in French, a term I never learned in any of my classes. We managed to find people from two or three of the countries listed, but they didn't want to appear on camera because of immigration paperwork concerns.

I finally had a man from Laos and a lady from Martinique explain our plight on camera. When the very nice person from Martinique finally explained that it wasn't safe for us to be there, I had her repeat that into the camera and we high tailed it out of there. Hopefully this would be enough for the judges. We certainly tried hard, but we suspect this is one challenge that might not make it in future competitions.

Steve told us later about a huge market in that area in the mornings, which would have made our work easier, but I'm still not sure we would have been able to get anyone to talk on camera.

This competition has removed any semblance of inhibition among those who've participated. We were with Chi, who spoke much better French than Linda and I, but she hadn't been approaching people non-stop all week for directions, assistance, to appear on camera, and to explain local history like we had.

So she stepped back a bit while we pleaded with the locals to appear in front of a camera with very little luck.

With that, we called it a week and took Chi out to dinner. She knew a great place that served duck. Linda and I really enjoyed it, so much so that we arranged for a dozen competitors and Steve to celebrate the ending of the race there the next night.

If you have any thoughts about giving this a try, my advice would be a wholehearted "Go for it." I've always thought my wife and I would make a good Amazing Race team and this was a great way to test that theory. Don't take my word for it, read a few posts and watch the videos some of the other teams came up with.

A common theme among the top finishers was that they all got along very well with each other as a team. That just might be the key to winning this event.

SO WHO DID WIN?

After some delay with the scoring, and a final push to be sure all videos were accounted for, the official scores are finally in.

Here are the top three out of eleven teams for the Monday through Wednesday 'unlimited tasks' portion and the grand prize:

  1. 240 David and Alex of Team Goldtroni
  2. 235 Kent and Linda of Team Gadling
  3. 230 Bill and Caroline of Team Swizzle

As you can see, it became a really tight race. If we had simply tried one more challenge or outscored David and Alex with one video we could have moved into the lead. But we also had Team Swizzle hot on our heals. We're thrilled with the results.

AND FOR THE SECOND PART?

The race began with a clean slate on Thursday and Friday, with the rules that will likely be used from now on at Competitours. The prize for this portion was a pair of domestic or Canada airline tickets or 5 days at any Starwood hotel anywhere in the world.

  1. 140 Kent and Linda of Team Gadling
  2. 125 Kevin and Elizabeth of Team 8/9
  3. 115 David and Alex of Team Goldtroni

I'd like to thank all the Gadling readers who helped us out via Twitter. I posed a few questions to everyone using twitter, but I only seemed to get responses from Gadling and my good friend, Rich Girard. I only realized last night that some great answers had been coming in, but I had a wrong box checked in my notification preferences and so I missed all the great help. So a special thanks to the others, especially TravelWithDave, for helping out.

It makes me want to go right back and do this again, and we just might give it another shot next year.



Read about the rest of the week: Pre-departure, departure, day 1, day 2, day 3, day 4 and day 5.

Filed under: Europe, France, Video

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